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Early onset as a marker for disease severity in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy.

Neurology 2019 January 23
OBJECTIVE: To assess the relation between age at onset and disease severity in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD).

METHODS: In this prospective cross-sectional study, we matched adult patients with FSHD with an early disease onset with 2 sex-matched FSHD control groups with a classic onset; the first group was age matched, and the second group was disease duration matched. Genetic characteristics, muscle performance, respiratory functioning, hearing loss, vision loss, epilepsy, educational level, and work status were compared with the 2 control groups.

RESULTS: Twenty-eight patients with early-onset FSHD were age (n = 28) or duration (n = 27) matched with classic-onset patients. Patients with early-onset FSHD had more severe muscle weakness (mean FSHD clinical score 11 vs 5 in the age-matched and 9 in the duration-matched group, p < 0.05) and a higher frequency of wheelchair dependency (57%, 0%, and 30%, respectively, p < 0.05). In addition, systemic features were more frequent in early-onset FSHD, most important, hearing loss, decreased respiratory function and spinal deformities. There was no difference in work status. Genetically, the shortest D4Z4 repeat arrays (2-3 units) were found exclusively in the early-onset group, and the largest repeat arrays (8-9 units) were found only in the classic-onset groups. De novo mutations were more frequent in early-onset patients (46% vs 4%).

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with early-onset FSHD more often have severe muscle weakness and systemic features. The disease severity is greater than in patients with classic-onset FSHD who are matched for disease duration, suggesting that the progression is faster in early-onset patients.

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